There is wisdom in the old adage to trust your gut. It tells us when something is off – be it a person, situation, or our bodies. It has been quipped as our second brain and more and more people believe the gut plays a role in our emotional health. I think it’s wise to listen to your gut. I dealt with IBS symptoms for years prior to a cancer diagnosis. Forgive me if I share too much. True, there were trigger foods and emotional triggers that caused issues. I saw many specialists that only ruled things out and never could explain why my stomach and digestion were such a mess. Other than a colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer, no one ever thought cancer was truly at the root. And it may not have been, but my gut was certainly working hard to tell me something was wrong. I made minor changes to my diet, but wound up just trying to control symptoms since I never got a real explanation.
Interestingly, after the diagnosis, the IBS symptoms all but disappeared. Sure, my diet is much different now, but I find it a very interesting correlation. Trust your gut. Perhaps it’s bringing your attention to something physical or emotional. Listen.
I am not a dietician, a nutritionist, or a health coach. I just want to share a few things I’ve learned over the past few years. Please follow-up with research of your own and consulting health professionals before making changes to your diet.
Eating a plant-based diet is one of the easiest ways to naturally change your gut environment. Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain prebiotics that keep the large intestine happy. Plants that are higher in fiber content help the gut. It has something to do with the fructans found in fiber rich foods. Fructans are a type of prebiotic. The higher the fructan level, the happier your gut biome. Fresh, whole foods are the recipe for a healthy gut biome. If you choose fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, beans (pinto, kidney, white), and whole grains, you’ll have it covered. Artichokes, raspberries, and asparagus are also good sources.
Legumes typically are low in fat, have no cholesterol, and contain insoluble and soluble fiber. They are high in potassium, iron, magnesium, and folate. General foods in the legume family are lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, and peanuts. Your gut likes legumes. I personally steer clear of soybeans and therefore any soy products due to associations with estrogen production, but I leave it to individuals to research and make their own decisions regarding soy, beans, and any of the suggestions I may make. What’s right for me may not be right for you. It’s always possible I have misread a fact even though I’ve made every effort to double and triple check.
Beans confuse me. Mark Hyman is the author of Food – What the Heck Should I Eat. He believes beans have benefits, mainly as resistant starches. He says the fiber, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients found in beans can be gotten from other food sources. He also writes that beans are to be avoided if you have cancer. I’m left confused here. There are always conflicting statistics, studies, and recommendations about foods. As stated above, beans can help contribute to a healthy gut. There are times I feel that I’m doomed whatever I eat. I still don’t know what the heck I should eat. Then I slip and have a delicious bowl of ice cream.
Broccoli probably wins the prize for the most beneficial food ever grown. I can’t stand it, but I’ve eaten it diligently. Now, I’m on a bit of a broccoli break. It’s easy enough and you can’t beat all its benefits. It’s just one of the mighty cruciferous vegetables that decrease the risk of several types of cancers (breast, colon, melanoma, pancreatic, and liver) and improves bone health. Cauliflower, kale, turnips, and Brussels sprouts are other cruciferous winners.
I have a lot to learn about whole grains. For those in the gluten-free camp, grains aren’t for you. The great thing about whole grains is they are packed with fiber and carbs. When these make their way to the large intestine, they are broken down there and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Plants rich in polyphenols are also helpful to the gut biome because they decrease inflammation in your gut. Polyphenols actually aren’t absorbed efficiently on their way to the colon, which in this case is a good thing, because it means there are more to be digested by bacteria in your gut. Good sources of polyphenols include blueberries, grape skins, broccoli, and onions. Almonds also are a good source, as well as cocoa and dark chocolate. Finally, no guilt for all the dark chocolate I eat! Red wine and green tea are liquid sources for polyphenols.
There are lots of diets out there claiming to achieve wellness for your body – low carb, no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, no meat, vegan, high protein, high fat, etc. The list goes on and on. Some have merit. I am waiting for the high chocolate diet since dark chocolate has already been established as a very good thing.
Bottom line: Eating a diverse diet that is mostly plants, limited in processed meats, and low in sugar is one that will keep your gut happy and that keeps YOU healthy.
I worked with a naturopath in the fall of 2016. It turns out my gut ecology wasn’t helping my body absorb nutrients even though I had made many diet changes and added supplements to my daily intake. This was less than thrilling news to hear that I’d been getting little if any positive effect from years of faithfully ingesting numerous pharmaceutical grade supplements, not to mention the financial investment involved with that commitment. Apparently, chemotherapy and some medications can drain your body of certain nutrients. The solution was better gut ecology, attained through a plant protein based drink that was dark yellow, thick, and awful tasting. I called it sludge. Strangely enough, I came to count on it as a support. It gave me needed nutrition and repaired my gut. I continue to drink it from time to time since my gut will likely be in need of extra support for a long time.
Gut ecology and health is a burgeoning field of science. No matter what the ailment, it seems improving your gut biome is a place to start recovering better health. Thousands of species of microorganisms make the gut home sweet home. These microbes help maximize nutrient absorption and support digestion. They even can contribute to a better immune system. Both these functions are vital to a stronger, healthier me, so if I need to drink sludge every day, I’ll do it happily, because a body that is functioning creates an environment where cancer cells are not welcome. Healthy bacteria in your gut actually form disease fighting armies. Foods like bananas, broccoli, blueberries, beans, and fermented plant-based foods are natural ways to create this bacteria. I give my gut a boost however I can and also take probiotics.
Michael Pollan is an author and food connoisseur who has taught me a lot about healthier eating. He has three simple rules: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. For further reading, I recommend In Defense of Food (or any book by him).
Trust keeps coming up over and over again as an underlying thread in many posts. It affects how you relate to yourself, to others, and how you function in the world. Trust affects what you eat and how much you eat. Establishing healthy boundaries has a lot to do with trust. I believe there is a direct cause and effect link between happiness, health, and trust. Examining each of these is a huge topic. For now, I’ll keep it simple with a basic guideline to listen to what your gut has to say. Trust yourself. Trust your gut.